Some posts on another ( hot ) topic make me want to share a daily life episode :
Like the Maidsafe guys, I am moving house, going to rent in another place. I need a contract and a paper from my insurance company, so that the new house I rent will be covered for all kinds of damages.
So I went this afternoon at the local office of my insurance company, debated a bit with the lady about pricing and terms. Nothing fancy so far.
When we agreed on the terms, she told me “you have your mobile with you, so we will sign the contract electronically with it”
Unfortunately for our respective time schedules, I said, “no, I would rather sign a paper contract, if you do not mind”.
After a moment of surprise, she asked me why the heck I would prefer to sign on paper. I responded that it was important to me, for ethical reasons about privacy, that we kept private the transaction between her company and I , without involving any third party in the story.
So she rolled eyes and smiled, arguing that everything was secure and all, and that only really aged people keep using paper. I went on and explained that if we did sign using my mobile, then my phone carrier, my mail provider, and her company’s subcontractors for instant messaging, and digital signature providers, would certainly make use of the (meta)data surrounding our transaction and resell it for profit.
The lady was really like " oh noes where is he taking me now"… I admit I have been testing her a bit…
She told me the whole process would be internal to the insurance company, and nobody would see anything from outside. So I asked her if they had antennas on the roof to send the verification instant message to my mobile , and a secure wireless link so I could directly get the mail with the contract copy.
She told me that she didn’t know anything about computers, and I went ahead explaining that her company uses the services of probably many companies in the chain : their own mail provider, one company for sending the SMSs, one for veryfying that it corresponds with the email I would have provided, another for archiving all that in some cloud, my own mail provider, my own mobile carrier, and so on, and so on… All of those having tiny lines in their terms of service specifying that they may at some point resell all, or parts of, the data that we transmit using their services.
The lady was nervous and had sporadic laughs, but after a while she told me, “oh I see what you mean, it is a bit like Facebook, we don’t really control what we put there, do we ?”.
So I went further and explained that yes, some companies do pay for all these bits of information, filter it , stir it and mix it until they obtain polished and highly valuable statistic data, that they resell to not only advertisers, marketing specialists, concurrent insurrance companies, but also to political partys, governments ,… well, whoever is willing to pay the price to shape our reality to their needs.
As she was begining to express interest in the matter, and told me that my scenario could happen if some “hackers” would “pirat” my email, I proposed her to make some research after her job about some companies like NationBuilder, Liegey Muller et Pons, Enigma, Federavox…
But here she said, “Oh no, I will never type that on my pc, I don’t want to fall into trouble with anyone”, expressing a clear feeling of fear and guilt as if informing herself about her own privacy and about what legit companies do with her data , could be considered a crime.
I live in a so called democratic country, some may have regognized which. But when I see how most of people around me consider electronic communications, and developped fear for showing interest in their own civil rights, I sometimes feel like the education work to be done will be really tough if we want to avoid our society to transform in an ugly Orwellian dystopia.
In the end , I signed with a Bic pen on a paper contract, and thanked the lady for allowing me to do so, and for the nice talk we had together about the world we live in